The Harlem-born rapper and record-producer, Rakim Mayers, better known as A$AP Rocky, released his aptly titled TESTING last week, much to my surprise and delight. I say ‘aptly titled’ as this is easily his most experimental and ‘out-there’ record to date; an intriguing flirtation with the avant-garde unlike what we have seen from A$AP Rocky before.
The album is littered with glitchy bass-lines, eccentric beats, and detuned lead melodies. There are more than a few stellar performances from featured artists on this record. I might even go so far as to say that they steal the show a little bit. FKA Twigs’ verse on ‘Fukk Sleep’ is especially memorable and phenomenal, making that track the best on the album. Skepta nails the hook on ‘Praise The Lord (Da Shine)’, and Frank Ocean gives a heartfelt and subdued performance on the closing track, ‘Purity’. The single that was released ahead of the album, ‘A$AP Forever’, sounded promising and contained an unexpected feature from none other than the one-and-only: Moby. That song also had features from T.I. and Kid Cudi.
Even though his guests steal the show, this does not mean that A$AP Rocky is unable to hold his own. The opening track, ‘Distorted Records’, a noisy and abrasive banger, sees Rocky leading the charge and raising the roof. Definitely a standout on the record, even if it is in large part due to its uniqueness, as it is the only real banger on the album.
And this is the biggest gripe I have with the album: it feels terribly lopsided. The first half has most of the ‘up-tempo’ songs, while the second half loses itself in a seemingly endless swamp of down-tempo trap beats, wobbly guitars, and spaced out vocals. There are songs in which this formula works, of course, the aforementioned ‘Purity’ being one example and ‘Hun43rd’ being another. But after the third or fourth track the same-old tricks get very old indeed. The absolute low-point for the album happens about halfway: the track ‘OG Beeper’ sounds like a first draft demo on the bonus edition of a B-sides record. Yes, it is that bad.
However bleak a picture I might have painted for you in the last couple of paragraphs, I did in fact enjoy this record a lot. I have to laud A$AP Rocky for his willingness to experiment and for the strength of the songwriting in the singles. Songs such as ‘Distorted Records’ and ‘Fukk Sleep’ have already ended up on my playlist. It is unfortunate that the record in its entirety is spoiled by some lazy filler material and a badly structured track-list.
Artist: A$ASP Rocky. Label: RCA Records. Top Tracks: Fukk Sleep; Distorted Records; A$AP Forever. For Fans Of: Tyler, the Creator; Vince Staples; Travis Scott. 52 minutes